Picture This

   Now, the world has never been long without big, bizarre hats, the kind that really catch the eye (and the wind.)  Floppy or rigid, expressing extreme elegance or extreme zaniness, the wide-brimmed hat was worn by women who wanted to express SOMETHING with a flair.

   The postcard hasn’t been around long, its modern version coming into public notice around the time of the Columbian Exposition.  It  was popular before 1907, but it really caught its stride after that, when the United States government, which had held a hard line on the handling of post cards (Message on THIS side, address on the other) decided it was okay to use all of one side for a picture and use the other side for address AND message.  This happened right in the middle of a major blossoming of wide-brimmed hats, and the postcard cartoonists were ready.

   The hats were known by many nicknames: the Garden Hat, the Gainsborough Hat (the artist Gainsborough frequently painted his society ladies in massive hats) and, in my part of the country, the Picture Hat (maybe because so many people saw them in those pictures painted by Gainsborough).  But most of the cartoonist were aware of yet a third current in pop culture.  Franz Lehar’s most famous operetta had opened to massive acclaim in 1905 and spawned, as other pop culture icons did at the time, popular items of clothing (remind me to tell you about men’s hats and the novel Trilby some day).  So to a lot of people, this was the Merry Widow Hat

   The Merry Widow Hat differed slightly from the Picture Hat because of the sometimes mountainous decoration with feathers, generally ostrich plumes, but it was the extensive brim which defined it at base.  Yes, by the way, women did wear them outside of postcard cartoons.

Drawbacks to the hat abounded: even if skewered to the hairdo with long hatpins or attached under the chin through use of a fashionable scarf, they could do unhelpful things in a high wind.  They could, as seen above, make walking along the boulevard a lonely proposition.  But they could hold back an unwelcome suitor, hide a welcome one from spying eyes if held down to one side, and, well, they could be useful at times.  

  It would be wrong to picture the whole of female high society walking out looking like fancy mushrooms.  There WERE other types of hats to be worn, some of them small enough to comprise one little cloth cap with one stuffed bird on it, some tall but with narrow brims, some frothy, and some…well, there’s a reason THIS style was known as the Peach Basket Hat.

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